U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Wednesday refused to say that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, according to a report by The Weekly Standard.
The report said the exchange took place at the daily State Department press briefing. The questions Nuland was asked were regarding a Washington Free Beacon story that highlighted the State Department's refusal to list Jerusalem as part of Israel.
Earlier in the week, the Washington Free Beacon had shown an official State Department communication which labeled Jerusalem and Israel as separate entities.
The official press release stated that “Acting Under Secretary Kathleen Stephens Travels to Algeria, Qatar, Jordan, Jerusalem, and Israel.”
After the Washington Free Beacon reported on this, the communication was altered to read, “Acting Under Secretary Kathleen Stephens Travels to Algiers, Doha, Amman, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv.”
On Wednesday, a reporter asked Nuland about this, saying, “Yesterday there was a bit of a kerfuffle over an announcement that was made by the department about the travel of your boss. Is it the State Department's position that Jerusalem is not part of Israel?”
Nuland said in response, according to the State Department transcript, “Well, you know that our position on Jerusalem has not changed. The first media note was issued in error, without appropriate clearances. We reissued the note to make clear that undersecretary, acting undersecretary for -- our -- Kathy Stevens will be travelling to Algiers, Doha, Amman, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. With regard to our Jerusalem policy, it's a permanent-status issue. It's got to be resolved through the negotiations between the parties.”
The reporter did not let up and asked Nuland whether it was the view of the United States that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, to which Nuland responded, “We are not going to prejudge the outcome of those negotiations, including the final status of Jerusalem.”
The reporter then asked, “Does that -- does that mean that you do not regard Jerusalem as the capital of Israel?” and Nuland responded, “Jerusalem is a permanent-status issue. It's got to be resolved through negotiations.”
Q: That seems to suggest that you do not regard Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Is that correct or not?
Nuland: I have just spoken to this issue -- and I have nothing further to say on it.
Later on during the briefing, the same reporter asked once again, “I want to clarify something, perhaps give you an ‘out’ on your Jerusalem answer. Is it your -- is it your position that all of Jerusalem is a final-status issue, or do you think -- or is it just East Jerusalem?”
The irritated Nuland, according to The Weekly Standard, then responded, “Matt, I don't have anything further to what I've said 17 times on that subject. OK?”
The issue of Jerusalem being recognized by the U.S. as Israel’s capital has been at the forefront for many years. It is centered on whether Israel has sovereignty over Jerusalem.
The U.S. Congress defined Jerusalem as Israel's capital in the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1955, passed by the 104th Congress on October 23, 1995, to have the US Embassy moved to Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999, The act called for Jerusalem to remain an undivided city and for it to be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel. The proposed law was adopted by the Senate (93–5) and the House (374–37), but not implemented by the State Department and the Executive branch.
Attorney Harvey Schwartz, Chair of the American Israeli Action Coalition, explained in an interview with Arutz Sheva several months ago, “United States policy has been consistent since 1948 that Israel is not sovereign over Jerusalem. Rather, the question of Jerusalem’s sovereignty is to be determined, ultimately, by resolution between the parties. That’s been consistent U.S. policy.”
The question of Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem is central to the Menachem Zivotofsky v. Hillary Clinton case. The case involves Menachem Zivotofsky, who was born in Jerusalem and whose parents requested that the place of birth on his U.S. passport and Consular Report of Birth Abroad be listed as Israel.
The State Department refused the request, leading the Zivotofskys to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Earlier this week, the Supreme Court returned the decision on the issue to the lower court.
In their decision, the justices wrote, “Congress enacted a statue providing that Americans born in Jerusalem may elect to have “Israel” listed as the place of birth on their passports. The State Department declined to follow that law, citing its longstanding policy of not taking a position on the political status of Jerusalem. When sued by an American who invoked that statute, the Secretary of State argued that the courts lacked authority to decide the case because it presented a political question. The Court of Appeals so held.
“We disagree. The courts are fully capable of determining whether this statute may be given effect, or instead must be struck down in light of authority conferred on the Executive by the Constitution.”